By Carley Dangona
WESTFIELD – An official changing of the guard took place in light of the upcoming retirement of long-time Mission Support Group Commander Col. Edward Gunning.
Gunning will officially retire May 31. Lt. Col Ann Ware assumed his place in a ceremony at Barnes Air National Guard Base on March 1. He has served the 104th Fighter Wing for 32 years.
“I first raised my hand [to enlist] in October of 1982,” Gunning told Reminder Publications
. “It’s going to be very strange not coming to drill on weekends and driving to the base every day.”
Gunning, a native of Windsor Locks, Conn., will turn 56 in July. “At some point you realize that it’s a young man’s game,” he said.
When asked what’s next he responded, “I don’t know. My wife – the boss of the house – said I absolutely have to go back to work.” Gunning and his wife Lynn will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary in November.
Throughout his career with the 104th, Gunning has served many roles including an F-15 fighter pilot, an Intel officer, communication flight commander, a logistician and a comptroller.
“The experiences was really, really interesting. My broad experience made me qualified to sit as Mission Support Commander,” he said, crediting those he worked with over the years for encouraging him to learn more.
Gunning has served three tours overseas. He served in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995, in Allied Force in Italy in 1999 and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.
“There’s been a lot of times when I’ve been called away,” he said, thanking his wife and daughters for their support. Kelsey, 25, is a graduate of the University of Connecticut with a bachelor’s in nursing. Ari, 21, is a Senior Airman with the 104th and a college student at Holyoke Community College.
During the ceremony on March 1, Ari served as the guide-bearer for the change of command where her father passed the flag to Ware. “It was her idea to be the guide bearer. I was a little bit embarrassed that I didn’t think of it. I’m glad she did,” Gunning said.
Gunning stated that he and his wife were hesitant at first, before helping Ari enlist. “She had talked about it for years, since she was a little kid,” he said, adding that as parents, they wanted to make sure she was serious about joining.
“Before I knew it, I was swearing her in and administering the oath of enlistment [to my daughter]. I’m very proud. It shows I’m fully invested in the 104th [to allow my daughter to join],” Gunning said.
The biggest change Gunning saw during his career was the reserve changing from just that to being some of the first on the line. He said, “[The unit] changed from a strategic reserve to a full up partner with active duty. The weekend warrior has been put to bed for so long. The 104th is ready to deploy the F-15s, in anger, 365 days a year. [In many ways] we’re more operational than active duty.”
Gunning said that the unit has and continues to support “No Fly” restrictions across the Eastern seaboard and has been deployed overseas in full.
He cited his role as a logistician for his current position where he is responsible for the 104th from top to bottom. “It laid the foundation for what was to follow. Chances are, if it’s broken, it’s my fault,” Gunning said.
He is officially the Mission Support Group Commander “in residence.” Gunning explained that he is finishing reports and serving as a guide to Ware, if needed. He plans to look into programs that hire veterans and is interested in possibly entering the emergency management field.
Gunning said he’s “not concerned at all” and has “full confidence” that the 104th would continue its success without him. He plans to stay connected with his “extended family” through its alumni association.
“I can’t complain, I had a pretty good run,” he said.